Kim Harlow: Icon

Sunny Suits fêtes the glamorous Paris dancer and muse 20 years after her passing

Kim Harlow: Icon
The artist shares images by Mark W. Suits and tells Dazed why she’s set on publishing a book dedicated to the dancer on the 20th anniversary of her passing Photography by Mark W. Suits

Sunny Suits is an American photographer and writer based in Paris. Recently sharing her Joujouka documentary with Dazed, the artist has curated a book dedicated to the beauty of Kim Harlow, featuring photography by Mark W. Suits (no relation) of which she is looking for a publisher. 2013 marks two decades since the glamour icon’s too-early death…

Kim! Wow what a beauty! There sure aren’t girls like her here anymore. Paris has changed so much but so has everywhere really.

The first time I saw Kim was in The Other Side, Nan Goldin’s seminal work on gender, topless backstage at the famous Carrousel de Paris or at home in front of a painting of herself. That still has to be one of my favorite pictures of Nan. I was quite young when I saw the book and other than a few Andy Warhol films I knew nothing of art. I guess Warhol and Nan are both entry points to the world of art for many people. The pictures showed me a world I never even thought about and here was this girl living in Paris working at Le Carrousel, it seemed anything was possible.

Kim was so real, not a caricature. She also had ties to the art world of Paris which is where Mark [W. Suits, who took the photographs seen here] met her.

Since I came to Paris in 2005 I had been looking for pictures of Kim. I knew somebody must have taken pictures of her here or there besides Nan and Bettina Rheims. Finally last year I came across Mark’s photographs and contacted him asking more details. After an exchange of emails that seemed to last forever, he seemed very skeptical – didn’t look at the signature on his email but when I did, I understood as we have the same last name, he thought I was a hoax or something. So, an American photographer living in Paris with my last name, which is rare last name, had shot Kim! Very, very strange.

Mark told me the story of how he met her. He was hired to play piano at an art opening and she was hired as the stripper. Kim was a trained dancer from a very young age, dancing in many facets. He said they hit it off and asked if he could photograph her, he was giving up composing music for photography at the time. They met a bit later at her apartment, circa 1989, and these are the pictures. Mark said she was really down to earth and easy to get on with, despite her reputation in the clubs. She was known to be quite wicked and was a fixture at legendary spots like Le Boy and Le Scorp. She was very happy with the pictures. When Mark phoned her a few years later her boyfriend answered the phone and gave him the news that Kim had died. He says he can still her saying, “You know Mark, I am a creation.”

Mark took three rolls of film and I have kept the best ones in. Really more chronological than anything else. I didn’t want to manipulate them or create anything false. It was heaven looking at these pictures of Kim! Pre-digital, pre-photoshop, pre-hashtag. They really are a very important document to Paris subculture but also to pure photography.

It’s intuitive to the extent of I feel something or I don’t feel something when I look at the pictures – but I also can understand that it can touch someone else. I’d also never include a picture that I think she wouldn’t like. I want her to be seen at her best.

There are a few pictures that I love but I have to say that the ones of her laughing are my favourite. I don’t think they are the ones I want on my wall but to see her laughing is important. Her with the feather boa is just beautiful though.

2013 marks the 20th anniversary of her death and I would have love for this book to have been published this year. I want it to be a small edition of no more than 1000 with perhaps very few that will include a print. I have dummy copies made that I am showing to publishers but am open of course to the design being changed.

[When I moved to] Paris [it] was beyond my expectations. The beginning was like a beautiful dream. I didn’t understand anyone and loved being in my bubble, I’d walk for hours and hours listening to music looking at the beauty of Paris. Is it still glamorous? I don’t know if I have ever defined my idea of ‘glamour’. There is no more Kim or Carrousel or any of those super French things kids from California dream about but when I see a bum drinking champagne in the street I think it doesn’t get anymore glamorous than that.

If Mark and I hadn’t met I think the pictures might still be resting in his archive unseen.

I think this work needs to be seen and also of course for Kim not to be forgotten. She’s incredible. Maybe this book will even reach California one day, to a kid who doesn’t know anything.

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